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In defence of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt
It is just fifty years, the October Labor Day weekend of 1954, since the Honourable Dr H V Evatt put the spotlight on an incubus, obnoxious and underground group that had for many years white-anted and weakened the labour movement. He put the searchlight on an 'outside organisation' that was using the trade union movement as the means of weakening federal Labor. He 'outed' an organisation that, with the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy and led by Mr B A Santamaria, was using the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as a means to fight the 'socialist' aspirations of the Australian labour movement. As the Communist Party was prominent in many unions, this led to the formation of 'Industrial Groups' to fight them. In this process, the hierarchy used the Catholic Social Studies Movement and other church bodies to enter the party-political arena, contrary to Vatican policy. By 1953 these Catholic groups were within an ace of capturing Australia's oldest political party. It is clear they used the 'communist bogey' to achieve a much wider perspective.
Various commentators suggest that the statement by the leader of the ALP, Dr Evatt, was a personal aberration, unnecessary, and should have been avoided. Some sources have even suggested he was eccentric and misguided, and, given a different leadership role, the later events could have been avoided. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is this historically incorrect, it masks a major contradiction within the labour movement that remains unresolved.
Dr Evatt was an eminent jurist, an independent thinker and writer, a courageous man who perceived the danger from fascism and militarism. From the moment he stood down from the High Court in the early days of World War II, he became an outstanding crusader for defending Australia from invasion and for Labor principles. His later role was positive on international co-operation, on the rights of people and for a better social order. He was in my early years an icon, a defender of democracy and the rule of law. He deserves a better place not only in Labor history but also in society in general. In the early days of the Cold war he was a beacon against the conservative Right. Essentially he was a centrist, leaning sometimes to orthodoxy, other times to non-conformist policies. In this latter role, he suffered much from the 'slings' of the Catholic hierarchy, and their appointee, Mr B A Santamaria.
In defending Dr Evatt from the paranoia of the Bishops, I quote only from those historians and participants, many of a Catholic background, who tell an incredible story of how a good man has been historically 'crucified' at the bar of history. He needs to be rehabilitated and defended from the calumny, back-handers and smears by knockers. Hence my contribution. I hope it will be seen through historical eyes and not as an attack upon the religious faith of many citizens who were misled.
Too many people have unwittingly contributed to a process that suggested Dr Evatt was a failure. He was not. Some examples of Labor history suffice. Graham Freudenberg claims, "all attempts to explain the 1955 Split have concentrated on the personal and political aspects", and he uses Robert Murray to say there was no real necessity... except the chief actors lacked the will to prevent it". Years later, even the eminent Neville Wran, in a forward to a recent reprint of Dr Evatt's celebrated biography of William Holman, made the suggestion the Doc's behaviour was a factor in the 1950s. Wran wrote "... it is difficult to see that there was any inevitability about the Split of 1955. Much more than 1916, the spirit of disinterestness was absent. In other words, splits may be inevitable and may even be necessary if deep and insoluble issues of principle arise, although skilful leadership always strive to the limit to avoid the final tragedy. But splits which involve no fundamental issue of principle, but merely reflect an excess of factionalism, can never be condoned or justified".
This generalisation led people like Michael Eason (former NSW Labor Council leader) to say "Evatt's leadership not only contributed to the final tragedy but also initiated and worsened the disaster". Not only is that wrong, it is slanderous. Former ALP leader Bill Hayden on three occasions muddied the waters, firstly in News-Weekly, writing a forward to a Gavan Duffy's history of the 'Movement' in which he 'attacked Evatt's reputation on free expression. "Evatt's record as a civil libertarian is very spotty", claiming elsewhere in his comments that "Evatt's reputation was energetically burnished as a defender of free expression, a slayer of intolerant Catholic sectarianism and a demolisher of secret and sinister Catholic conspiracies to seize control of the Labor Party...".
In 1997 in Santamaria's own Memoir, Hayden is quoted as saying: "He (Evatt) made it without consultation in a desperate and inexcusably selfish effort to save his sagging leadership. Not for the first time in his career Evatt put his personal ambitions ahead of any other interests, such as those of the Labor Party. He might have saved his leadership... but he bequeathed Labor a legacy of more than two decades of internal division and self-evisceration, keeping it trapped in Opposition...". Earlier at the national press club in Canberra in April 1996, shortly after he retired as Governor-General, Bill Hayden is quoted as saying: "I am inexcusably in the ranks of the Labor Party, generous to Bob Santamaria. Santamaria we used to treat as a reactionary and worse, a devil with two heads and four tails. But if you read Santamaria's columns these days (1996), he is more radical than the Labor Party. Much, much more and always has been...".
The attacks on Dr Evatt and his moral reputation about civil liberties was unjustified, as the Sunday Sun & Guardian of 11 March 1951 said in an article commenting on the High Court decision which in a 6 to l majority declared invalid the Menzies government's anti-communist legislation. "Whatever you think about this, it must be said that, for Evatt, the High Court's judgment on the Communist Party Dissolution Act is a great political and legal triumph... Evatt took the brief because he thought the anti-communist legislation would make tyrannous government possible, violate fundamental principles of British justice and that it was opposed to a principle the Australian Constitution itself sought to protect...if the executive government can do this to communists, all minority groups will be in danger...."
Later in the September 1951 referenda on changing the constitution (Powers to deal with Communists and Communism) he played an outstanding role, against the odds, to have the Australian people endorse his stand. For the second time he clipped the wings of the Menzies government. He became a hero in the community in defence of democracy. Even Dr Mannnix in a rare break with 'the Bishops', advocated 'No' as did sections of the popular press in that famous campaign to defend basic rights of minorities. He was able to prove that the net against communists could include anyone who dissented from the executive government. A few years later when Evatt 'outed' the secretive 'Movement' for interfering in the internal affairs of the ALP, he garnished much support initially, and many people supported him by joining the ALP. Regretfully, many highly placed Catholic leaders were persuaded to slander him and his reputation. In so doing they aided and assisted the long-time plan that weakened federal Labor and put it at the electoral mercy of the Democratic Labor Party. That strategy used blackmail tactics denying Labor preferences for decades unless it backtracked on the policies determined at the 1955 Hobart conference of the Australian Labor Party.
The comments referred to earlier by those who do not know the facts were simplistic, historically wrong, inadequate and an injustice to an eminent jurist. They suggest all that happened at the famous Hobart conference of the ALP was also wrong; that all the state branches which endorsed the decisions of a properly constituted federal ALP conference were wrong. It is absurd. They ignore the fact that Dr Evatt was persuaded by Australian Workers Union (AWU) chieftain Tom Dougherty and Jim Ormonde, as well as numerous important NSW Labor union officials, to take the action he did, and that he had no alternative. My refutation is designed to show that such comments are a shallow misrepresentation of the factual circumstances that had their genesis years earlier in the Curtin-Chifey-Evatt wartime government. The so-called 'split' emanated from a deep-seated contradiction within the body-politic that exists to this very day. It needs to be examined from its origins, well before Dr Evatt's celebrated entry into Australian parliamentary politics in 1940 when he resigned from the High Court to play a key part in the defence of Australia.
As the facts emerge they will speak for themselves. The problem is people tend to ignore or face the historical events in favour of their own subjective and simplistic viewpoints. My aim is to present a ball-by-ball representation of what actually happened over decades, and show that it is totally wrong and unfair to blame the 'Split' upon Dr Evatt. I have drawn my analysis from several quarters. My experiences arise from my close personal friendship with the late Senator Jim Ormonde, who convinced me to go down the social-democratic path and fight Catholic Action. My close associations with union officials like Tom Dougherty (AWU), Barney Platt (Transport Workers' Union), Bob Erskine (Textile Clothing And Footwear Union), Jack Williams (Builders Labourers Federation), Fred Campbell (Electrical Trades Union) and John Garland (Australian Education Union), as well as such important Catholic parliamentarians as Eddie Ward, Les Haylen and Gertrude Melville and the representative NSW steering committee of which I was a member and later its secretary helped me to understand the evil. I have drawn conclusions from books written by Father Duncan, Gerard Henderson, Bob Santamaria, Ross Fitzgerald, John Faulkner, Paul Ormonde and others like Robert Murray and Ross McMullin.
Pattern of wholesale deceit
Hundreds of examples exist that show a pattern of deception and intrigue which plagued Labor for decades. A secretive 'Movement' led by non and anti-Labor persons actually worked against many federal Labor leaders not just Dr Evatt. Curtin, Chifley, Calwell and Whitlam all felt their sting. This secretive cabal had the support of top business personalities as well as the Catholic bishops. The Movement divided Labor, the Church and the community. Due to many circumstances on the world scene and the demand for social justice and a better social order, a conflict between capital and labour led inevitably to a schism that engulfed social democracy. In the process the politicisation of the Catholic religion led to the Church entering the sphere of party politics with disastrous effects on Labor, the trade union movement, Catholicism and parliamentary democracy. Australian Catholicism saw itself on a holy mission against communism and decided to use the labour movement as its principal instrument to combat the ALP socialist objective of the 1920s; the socialisation movements after the first World War and during the world depression years and the socialist dream of the communists.
In this entry into Australian Labor, Santamaria claims credit for the formation of the ALP Industrial Groups. In his book Australia at the Crossroads he says: "The Industrial Groups were indisputably the major influence in the ALP in 1953 and in a position, if their influence had been permitted to consolidate itself to shape an entirely different Labor Party..." In his position as the spokesman for the Catholic Social Studies Movement and other Catholic bodies, he indicated the tactic of permeation (to) be used within the labour movement. "Our attitude to political parties is very clear. We try to influence both sides as best we can. We are neutral between them. But ... facts have driven us deeper into the labour movement than into the other side". (Gerard Henderson p.173).
For those who believe in democracy, fair play and the rule of law, especially against any form of discrimination, they should know what was in the pipeline of the Movement prior to that October 1954 weekend. At the end of the Second World War, the ALP Groups were established in the eastern states and over a few years 'captured' many unions. They had other perspectives than removing communists from union leadership.
The Industrial Groups, following such successes aimed to set up at the NSW ALP state executive level a 'fighting fund' to finance all trade union elections. Late in 1953 at a NSW ALP central executive meeting Jack Kane (officer-in-charge of the Industrial Groups) presented a series of rule amendments that showed conclusively how the Labor Party was to be manipulated by the 'Groups'. Charlie Oliver (AWU) asked the then state president Bill Colbourne the intent of the rule changes; stating that he Oliver would never become a Grouper. President Colbourne (then a Movement member) replied, "Every good ALP member knows the rules and he knows the consequences if he disobeys them. It is very obvious that the Groups in the AWU will choose the candidates, but Charlie Oliver who will never be a Grouper will be expelled from the ALP if he opposes the Grouper candidates" (in his union ballot). These rules were to be dealt with prior to October 1954. Dr Evatt's statement killed this preposterous idea.
The next step, which was outlined at Industrial Group conferences and proclaimed by none other than John Kerr (of Governor-General fame) was to have compulsory unionism; the Labor Party Groups to select the candidates for union office and for all union elections to be held on the same day. It was to be 'corporatism' applied to the trade union movement. The 'machine' was to become the powerhouse; the power point; the 'feudal centre' and apply tyrannical control of unionism.
The Australian Workers' Union was the largest trade union in Australia and because it covered both rural and urban workers it had a large presence in the ALP. At the 1954 NSW Labor conference the tensions had heightened. It was the report dealing with the ALP Industrial Groups that showed 'their strength' and how they were departing from the original NSW charter, and interfering in all unions' affairs. Tom Liston (AWU) and Jim Hamling (Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union) opposed the adoption of the 'Groups' report. An amendment from Fred Campbell (Electrical Trades) and Charlie Oliver (AWU) suggesting that the NSW ALP executive confer with the Transport Workers' Union to achieve their re-affiliation and the 'Grouper Charter' in that Labor union be withdrawn was lost by 76 to 348 on Sunday 13 June 1954. It was a hot bed of totalitarianism. Fred Campbell told the Labor conference "there was a great story to be told about union and party affairs". It was a move from the centre forces in NSW for more balance, and for the independence of the trade union movement.
This one-sided vote was the last straw to those who knew a little, but only a little about the clandestine activities of the hierarchical-backed Catholic Studies Social Movement. The AWU general secretary Tom Dougherty knew about Santamaria's plan that by capturing the AWU the Movement would be able to have absolute control of the ALP. He was beside himself with rage but controlled it for the moment, letting others move. In 1952 Joe Bukowski, the Queensland AWU president had confided to Dougherty about the widespread machinations of Mr Santamaria. "Back in 1949", Bukowski told delegates to the 69th AWU national convention, "he had been approached to work with others from interstate who were fighting communism. They took me to the Catholic Institute for Seamen in Brisbane... 'put the tape over me'. Ultimately he was involved with Mr Lauritz (National Civic Council, News-Weekly), Mr Poulgrain who worked out of an office in the (Catholic) Hibernian Society, Jack Kane and Frank McManus, both of whom were to become ALP officials in NSW and Victoria and later Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senators). They pledged me to secrecy".
At that time the AWU supremo Dougherty suggested Bukowski 'go along' with them and keep him informed. The AWU Queensland president told the union convention, "that late on Sunday night, Mr Kane came to me and said 'of course, you do not want to mention anything to Dougherty of what is going on'..." It was stupid as AWU loyalty always came first in that union. It was just another example of how 'outsiders' knew so little about labour movement ethos and culture.
While all this underhand interference was taking place in the trade union movement, a quiet takeover of ALP branches was proceeding in NSW and Victoria as Catholic parish lists were used to recruit all and sundry. Parishioners were told to join the ALP to fight communism. The international Cold War was raging, adding fuel to these political moves. Liberal anti-communist legislation, the 1952 referendum, the Korean War and the Petrov defection raised the temperature in the labour movement and the Catholic Church. The tactics of communists per se gave credence to these intrigues.
Misuse of Catholic workers
The roots of this great philosophical struggle and contradiction within Labor lay not so much about the ideological issues between capital and labour for a better society, but in the composition of the Australian workforce. As distinct from other countries, our workforce came not from the breakdown of feudalism but from convictism and unskilled migrant workers, especially from Ireland. Moving out from their religious and economic ghetto the working class Irish Catholic saw the unions and Labor as a means of extending their influence and improving working conditions. Some success came from intense class struggles against capital and later from the parliamentary path. Many of the leading trade union militants in the various tendencies came from the Irish Catholics in both the extra-parliamentary activities in unions as well as the parliaments. Life was dreadful for most workers both in the factories and in their rented homes. Many lived in slums and working conditions were deplorable. Before the Second World War, annual holidays did not exist for most and such things as 'safety' at work were unthinkable. In this process the move towards some form of socialism emerged, following the two world wars and the privations of the depression. As communism posed itself as an alternative after 1917, so did the prospects of democratic socialism arrive. These contending forces manifested themselves in the labour movement, and in this conflict the role of the Catholic hierarchy became apparent.
As a certain brand of popular communism developed in the aftermath of the First World War so did Catholicism in Australia respond, taking advantage of the special relationship between the trade unions and their particular 'vehicle the ALP' and parliament. In 1938, following a mild excursion in the internal affairs of a particular union in Victoria, Mr Santamaria claims the Movement was born. It was the forerunner of decades of clandestine activities inside the independent trade union movement. The world depression saw the popularisation of Labor's socialisation units. In Victoria, at the 1940 Labor Conference one of the leaders of this 'socialist tendency', Don MacSween (Clothing Trades Union leader), lost his ballot against Pat Kennelly - 119 to 104. The Santamaria Movement was to claim (falsely) that 'communists' were planning to take over the Victorian ALP. The fact that quite a number of the communist-led unions were ideologically and specifically not affiliated to the ALP was ignored. The communists had an entirely different agenda.
In NSW the Left, including the communists, had cleansed the ALP from the nepotic and disruptive influence of the 'Lang machine', to the extent that the Left won both the 1939 and 1940 NSW ALP conferences. When the famous 'Peace' resolution offended the federal ALP executive in 1940 the 'Left walked' out of the ALP, finally merging in 1944 with the Communist Party. Many unions led by communist officials disaffiliated from the now official ALP in the late 1940s - quite the opposite to the Santamarian polemics and the hierarchy. Years later I had the task as a member of the NSW steering committee of getting these unions to re-affiliate to the NSW ALP to keep the 'Group' elements at bay.
While it was said Justice Evatt agreed with the 1940 Easter NSW Labor conference sentiments about the Soviet-Finnish war, he held a wider view about Germany and Japan. John Curtin was hobbled with a divided labour movement (three Labor parties in NSW) and the left-right struggles inside the ALP for the 'socialist objective', and was thus reluctant to challenge the disintegrating flotsam and jetsam in the conservative side of politics in Canberra. It was left to the new Barton parliamentarian Evatt (September 1940) to stiffen Curtin. Arthur Calwell MHR said "Herbert Vere Evatt more than any other man, more than Curtin himself, was responsible for the first Curtin Ministry coming into power when it did in the way it did. Curtin was hesitant on the question of whether the Menzies government should be destroyed. Evatt was not... He had a will to power that was absent in Curtin at that time. He earnestly desired power because he believed he, and the Labor Party, should take and wield the power of government as soon as possible in the nation's interest. Curtin, more sensitive to the dangers and difficulties did not seek power".
Evatt did, and he became a linch pin in the new Labor administration which took office on October 7, 1941. Without Evatt the Curtin government might not have survived. It was Evatt who persuaded the two independents as well as the former Lang members who had been re-elected as federal members of the Anti-Communist Lang Labor Party to rejoin the official party late in 1941, thus shoring up the essential majority Labor needed to govern in the House of Representatives, during Australia's most difficult hour, when Japan came into the Second World War on December 7th 1941.
The early stirrings
While these vital issues were being resolved in the parliament by Curtin and Evatt, the hierarchy was backing the efforts of Mr Santamaria who in August 1941 while Hitler was marching on Moscow, claims Stan Keon, Frank Hannan, John Cremean met in his home and formed the first 'Movement meeting'. Next year in January, Santamaria and Cremean met again with Archbishop Manni,x who agreed to help finance their 'Movement' as well as asking Melbourne's parish priests to nominate two reliable men to assist in forming an anti-communist organisation in the trade unions. 300 Catholic unionists attended a meeting on l4 August 1942 at the very time 18 year-old Australian militiamen were to battle the Japanese invaders at Kokoda. This 'Movement' grew, especially as the hierarchy actually gave considerable sums of money to it over the years. It was finally given official Church blessing in September 1945 with the bishops in charge, immediately the Second World War ended.
This 'official endorsement' led Jim Ormonde to attack the Industrial Groups in 1951 and years later in letters to the Sydney Morning Herald, in December 1964, Senator Jim Ormonde wrote, "Most people would agree that the Curtin government and the Labor Party needed no aid from Mr Santamaria or his Movement in those years. Which brings me to the point that in my view Mr Santamaria even in those days and earlier had very much wider horizons than the mere defeat of communists in a few unions. The labour movement had to fight the Santamaria movement not only in the interests of Labor but also in the interests of democracy in Australia. It is Labor's misfortune that certain sections of the electors have never appreciated the implication of the division in the Labor Party or its fundamental seriousness".
"The Santamaria movement was a 'secret society'", the senator said. "It established 'cells' within unions and ALP branches. Its mode of communications was by 'code word'. Entrance was by password. Youths, organised in semi-military style, operated in the suburbs; each district had its commanders, etc. A particularly dishonest stratagem used by the Movement was the issuing of counterfeit union tickets for entry to union meetings. The Movement was linked with security (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) and character assassination was a major part of its armoury", said Jim Ormonde. "No one was safe, cleric or non-cleric. To be dubbed a communist one had only to disagree with the methods of the Santamaria movement. Fortunately...the labour movement and a great section of the leadership of the Catholic Church and laity became aware of the methods and intentions of the Santamaria movement... I lose patience with (those) who write of Santamaria ... as just another political dispute... such simplification is unfair to Labor and is not true history", he concluded.
The Honourable Xavier Connor AO, QC and a former supreme court justice and member of the Campion Society expressed it well too: "From about 1945 to 1957 an organisation known as the Movement operated in Australia within the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party. It was effectively under the control of the Catholic hierarchy of Australia. It was a secret organisation. It was run by Bob Santamaria. Part of its activity was to select policies which it considered suitable for the ALP and to select men to implement those policies". In Victoria a Movement document, which later surfaced, "directed its members in 1952 to give full attention... to federal and state pre-selections with the view (they agree) with the Movement's industrial (and) economic policies".
Creating a false sense of fear in the early years of the Curtin-Evatt Labor government, foreboding and thus confusion in the minds of its faithful, a sign of Catholic paranoia in those earlier formative years of the 'Movement' was expressed by Archbishop Gilroy, one of the patrons of the Australian national secretariat of Catholic Action, when he said in two issues of the NSW Catholic Weekly on the 10th and 17th September 1942, that the communists were preparing for "armed insurrection" in Australia. The fact that General Douglas MacArthur had arrived in Australia six months earlier with thousands of American troops was ignored. His fellow archbishops were on the same wavelength sowing doubts and confusion. Archbishop Duhig was to say the following year, "Mussolini is like Napoleon with few, if any, of his faults". Not to be outdone was Archbishop Mannix who said, "Mussolini, the greatest man living today" in 1943. The fact that Mussolini was part of the Anti-Comintern Axis and our enemy, was not accepted by these important religious opinion-makers. Some might say these statements bordered on alienation, apostasy and disloyalty.
They were never brought to account for their statements and actions. In fact they helped their own church-backed cabal during the difficult war years on every occasion by hypnotising their parishioners about 'reds' and thus give credence to the Santamaria 'push'. The arch-conservative Archbishop Duhig was to write to his senior Archbishop Gilroy on 19th November 1942, saying he regarded Evatt "as the most dangerous man in Australia... Evatt is an out-and-out Communist in sympathy... anti-religious and particularly anti-Catholic".
On the world scene the Vatican had been ambivalent to both Hitler and Mussolini and in the countries now occupied by Nazism the Catholic prelates were collaborating with the enemy. It started in Spain during the civil war and continued in much of Eastern Europe during 1939/45. When the collaborative forces of the extreme Right were defeated in the Second World War, it was to have major repercussions in post-war Europe and was to spill over even in Australia where many church figures had got themselves in a political movement that was almost out of control for years.
A great Labor government
The Curtin Labor government played a masterful role during the 1940s. It organised our war effort by establishing government enterprise in many areas and found a ready ally in the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) who, speaking on behalf of the workers, acted as one to support the Labor government. Ideology was put on standby. In August 1945, at war's end, (ACTU) Secretary Charlie Crofts was to say, "... the unions have temporarily conceded (during the war) many things that for years they had fought against. They have accepted heavy dilution of labour, suspended overtime bans, agreed to the admission of female labour to industries for which it was previously excluded, accepted altered shift arrangements, and abrogated many other pleasures that they would never have given up in peacetime, including the pegging of all wage rates". This unity of purpose was the working-class' contribution to the war effort. The employees on the other hand worked on a system of costs plus, with a 10 per cent profit margin. The more the cost, the more their profit.
This wartime unity put on hold much of the conflict between at least two of the major tendencies, the Left and the church. In Melbourne in 1943, conscious of how society saw life in Australia, two wars and an economic crisis, a group of Christians embracing the Anglican Social Questions Committee, the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action and the Christian Social Order Council (the non-conformist churches) adopted a twenty point 'CHRISTIAN PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE'. Their statement called for public control of monopolies and credit; industrial councils (representing employer, employee and the public); part ownership of industry by workers; co-operatives - producers, consumers, marketing, insurance and credit; adequate income for all families; equal pay for equal work; special financial assistance to families, decentralisation; family land settlement; national system of education, adequate wages to be paid before dividends and profit, religion to be the basis of education and so on.
The Catholic Social Studies Movement, in general, embraced most of these policies, making the point the recommendations need to be confined "to those which could be based on the principles of Christian social doctrine". Catholic social thought at this time seemed to be expressed in their "Statement on Reconstruction and Pattern for Peace". From the Curtin government's standpoint, they saw these moves as a vindication of public support for tackling poverty, hardships, and a better social order in the post-war era. So having won a decisive victory of 48 seats to 23 UAP and the two independents in the mid-war August 1943 federal elections, Curtin, Evatt and Chifley proceeded to put some energy into post-war planning believing they had some Christian support. On the eastern front the Russians had defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad and in Italy the Allies were winning too. The Labor cabinet decided it needed more power to plan for the peacetime economy and ex-service rehabilitation. The Curtin Labor government felt is had sufficient community support so it authorised Dr Evatt to prepare proposals for changes to the Constitution in pursuit of social justice policies. Initially the Sydney Catholic Weekly realised that increased Commonwealth powers were necessary to implement the program of the ecumenical bishops 1943 social justice statement. Regretfully, they were to later argue "the (14-point referenda) proposals should be rejected".
Preparing for peace and development
Gough Whitlam was to twice argue the merit of Curtin-Evatt's 1944 Powers Referendum. In his Curtin memorial lecture in 1961 he said: "My interest in constitutional matters stem from the time John Curtin was prime minister. The Commonwealth parliament's powers were then at their most ample and it was constitutionally if not always politically more open to a Labor government to carry out its policies than it is in peace time. John Curtin however, saw that he was presiding over a passing phase. He was not content with the paradox that the Labor Party was free to enact its policies in times of war alone. Accordingly, in 1944 he sponsored a referendum to give the federal parliament post-war powers. His motives...were based on patriotism and experience. He argued the case with his full logic and eloquence. The opposition to the referendum was spurious and selfish. The arguments were false..."
Years later at the federal ALP Executive "Foundation-stone" ceremony on the site of John Curtin House in Canberra in 1974, now as prime minister, he declared again: "If ever a man was born to lead this nation in times of peace and in the paths of peace, he was John Curtin. If ever a man was born to apply his vision of what Australia at peace could be, his vision of what Australia at peace should become in his time, he was John Curtin. And yet his place in history is as our wartime leader. He did not choose his time. He was enslaved by the times and for him time was a cruel master. He was slave to his own destiny. He was a pacifist who had to lead his country in war. He was called upon to make decisions which sent men to die".
"There was above all that terrible time in 1942. More than half our army, our only battle-tried and battle-trained, our best and bravest, were in unescorted transports in the Indian Ocean - then a deadly ocean - coming home from the Middle-East to form our only defence in the Pacific War. It was his decision, his responsibility. With all the weight of this fearful knowledge upon him, unable to tell his colleagues, even though of them (Chifley and Evatt) who were mates, he was alone... Even so, he never forgot his real aims and ideals. He never lost his vision for Australia. As soon as the moment of highest danger passed, he turned to the task of building a new Australia, an Australia he wanted it to be after the war. He wanted to turn the prodigious energies of the Australian people had shown in war to the task of rebuilding, remodelling and reforming this country in peace. He expressed those ideals and that vision in the great referendum campaign thirty years ago. So far as the dry and confining language of constitutional and legal statements can convey John Curtin's vision is expressed in the 1944 referendum proposals. He won the war but he lost that battle. "I invite you", Gough said, "to reflect how different, how better, this nation would now be if those proposals had carried. They were proposals for unity, for equality, for human dignity".
This referendum was to give temporary powers to the Commonwealth and to use the special authority of a wartime government to make those essential changes to the Australian Constitution to more adequately govern in the national interest. Despite massive enthusiasm in the ALP, the party conferences and in all sectors of the trade union movement, the result was disappointing. The Government and the Labor Party had a year earlier won its greatest and largest victory and majority. It expected to win in the face of such unity.
What happened? The well-endowed Catholic hierarchy did not support Labor's proposals. Was it just plain ambivalence, contrariness or sabotage? There was some confusion no doubt in the ranks of Catholicism but the three principal Archbishops overall linked the referendum to the fear it would lead to socialisation, with some sort of threat to the Catholic faith. They saw socialisation, socialism and/or communism as having a theistic or agnostic imperative. This caused a panic in their thinking. Arthur Calwell approached Bob Santamaria to tone down the opposition coming from Catholic laypersons. Santamaria said he could not, because he was not in favour of the proposals, to change the strident nature of the Victorian Catholic paper Freedom (later the News-Weekly), which put qualifications on the proposals. Archbishop Duhig (Queensland) was 'strongly opposed (to) the constitutional changes' saying he had been advised that the changes in the Constitution might leave the way open for the spread of communism. He also claimed the Chief Justice of Queensland too supported that view.
The Catholic Worker also considered the Evatt's proposals would make for 'dictatorship' and enable 'an agnostic' socialist or capitalist regime to persecute Christians. On another occasion the same paper saw 'its task being to vanquish Capitalism and to defeat Communism'. In a period where the Government had used its manpower regulations to put people in factories during the threat of a Japanese invasion, the Catholic Worker's headlines claiming it would give more power to government to use forced labour, it clearly confused and worried many voters.
Sydney's Catholic Weekly while earlier thought increased Commonwealth powers were necessary for improved conditions changed their position ... in June 1944 it argued that unless the Government guaranteed that it would not conscript manpower after the war, the 'proposals should be rejected'. The view was repeated weeks later. It was as Whitlam said 'spurious' - no government could survive using forced labour. (Despite Dr Evatt's attempt to defuse their worries - he and John Curtin both gave a guarantee there would be no industrial conscription post-war). Regardless the confusion was unhelpful, so the referendum on 19 August 1944 was defeated. In the three eastern states it was lost, on the old score, 'when in doubt? Don't'. Only South and West Australia and the armed forces voted in favour. Politically Rightwing Catholic leaders were undermining Federal Labor which had an electoral mandate determined by democratic means at all levels of the labour movement to implement social justice policies. Many of Labor's parliamentarians knew how bad the Scullin policies were in 1931 and planned to do better and, as the electors democratically gave them support they expected to win.
Underhand and virulent
There is abundant evidence of how these nascent forces undermined Federal Labor on a consistent basis for decades. So from the John Curtin Labor referendum of September 1944 in the midst of the Second World War, Federal Labor had to contend with covert and overt campaigns to handicap and/or keep it from its task of effectively governing Australia in the interests of the working people and the nation. The same sabotage was applied to the vital 1946 Chifley Referenda; where Queensland by a small margin refused to give the Chifley Government the power to act on organised marketing of primary products and industrial employment, approving only proposals for social services. The rejection of Labor's 1948 Prices and Rents Referenda was yet another example of this unseen power against Federal Labor. Always these cult elements around the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action, the National Catholic Rural Movement, the Catholic Social Studies Movement and the Freedom Movement were playing a negative role in political matters against a Federal Labor Government. It was especially Queensland that played an abhorrent and malicious role in these referenda.
It mattered not whether these church bodies should be mute during the Curtin regime in the difficult war years, it was to continue on a surreptitious base against Ben Chifley, Evatt and Calwell right from 1945 till 1972 with its overt political party putting Federal Labor in a political 'pincing' movement from the Right by diverting some Labor votes to the Liberal-Coalition. On the Left the Communist Party was pushing its agenda - although on the referenda questions they supported them all.
A new prime minister but same strategy
John Curtin exhausted by the trauma of the times died on 6th July 1945. Ben Chifley became prime minister a week later. Strangely a meeting of Catholic bishops was called to discuss the 'Industrial question' a few months later in September 1945. According to Gerard Henderson's Mr Santamaria and the Bishops, there was differences about when the Catholic Social Studies Movement actually started. It was all so secretive - even Santamaria quotes different commencement dates. Nevertheless Henderson asserts the CSSM came into existence in 1941/2 in Melbourne and a somewhat similar body Catholic Social Bureau about the same time began operating in Sydney. It became a national body at that bishop's meeting and became known as the Episcopal Committee on the CSSM (ECCSSM).
Mr Santamaria was appointed to the position of Liaison Officer between the Episcopal Committee (the bishops) and the CSSM. He was also the assistant director of the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action and he remained secretary of the National Catholic Rural Movement. The bishops (Mannix, Gilroy and O'Collins) voted 10,000 pounds from the Australian Catholic Charities Association for the first year with a skeleton staff in the capital cities. He was the key operator for the hierarchy, writing the annual social justice statements which the bishops endorsed and simultaneously organising deceitfully and furtively within the labour movement. He wrote many articles many times using a pseudonym, giving the appearance there were many voices expressing the same opinion. Small wonder he was able to say years later in a question on TV about trade with Red China "I am perfectly ready to allow that situation to endure'. It was a sign of his power, authority and arrogance. He was speaking with the authority of the hierarchy. Fortunately he has been unmasked by history, as well as his faith, in his own purity and infallibility.
Labor kept trying
The Chifley government, disappointed at the electors' refusal to change the constitution, was undeterred, so it decided the new social order promised during the Second World War required the Labor government to have more say in the role capital played in all aspects of the economy. Their initial efforts were stymied in the High Court, so the Labor government proposed to nationalise the banking system. It was to implement an ALP policy made in 1920, said Ben Chifley. An enthusiastic federal parliamentary Labor caucus endorsed the Bank Nationalisation Bill by acclamation in August 1947. ALP whip, Arthur Fuller (Hume), was to say in the parliament, "as the Government Whip, I say ... that there has never been a more united party in the history of this country than the Labor Party on this great and momentous issue". Jim Hadley (Lilley) was 'elated' and 'the happiest moment of my life'. Bill Edmonds (Herbert) said it implemented the "most sacred plank of the platform of the Australian Labor Party". Bert Lazzarini (Werriwa) had "dreamt of and hoped for this legislation all my adult life". One after another, Joe Langtry, Fred Daly, Tom Sheehan, Rowley James and Bill O'Connor summed it up. "The private banks ... have been guilty of economic crimes that defy imagination". (A view many have, even in the 21st century).
In unity at the September 2, 1947 ACTU congress, delegates overwhelmingly and enthusiastically said "that the proposal of the federal government to nationalise the banking system is one of the most progressive steps ever taken in the interests of the Australian people. It will give small farmers and business people protection from a small group of financiers who exercise monopoly control over large sections of the economic life of the community, and will give the government greatly added power to ameliorate the effects of economic crisis and depression..." Life for the average person was difficult. The great majority lived below the poverty line, most lived week by week and the employer had the upper hand. Unemployment was a constant threat - few could afford medical help and education posed financial demands. Life was not easy for most.
Labor's plan to have a say in money power, its access and distribution was to unleash a most hysterical anti-Labor campaign. Capital saw the challenge to its absolute power and reacted calling upon conservatives everywhere to fight the federal Labor government. The RSL got involved and the private banks created a hurricane of fear and foreboding amongst their customers and staff. Bank officers by decision of management were given an "Offer of Assistance" form to fill in - their names passed on to fellow bank officers in the electorates where they lived and were given leave WITH pay to work against the government out in the suburbs. What emerged was a coalition of all the forces of the Right, and on all fronts the gauntlet was thrown at the Chifley-Evatt-Calwell Labor government. Catholic papers had little sympathy for the proposal. The Melbourne Advocate (Catholic) asked why nationalisation of banks was needed? The Victorian Catholic Tribune considered Chifley had not proven his case, while the Santamaria-initiated News-Weekly, preferring co-operatives, said nationalisation alone would put "people under the control of the bureaucracy and the Government". In a more conspiratorial note, the Sydney-based Catholic Weekly, under Cardinal Gilroy's influence, contended that Labor was "committed to an advanced policy of socialism in the fullest sense of the word". Duhig added his tuppence saying that "socialisation was a much more plausible and subtle foe than communism". Not to be outdone was the 1917 conscriptionist and Hobart's Archdeacon T.J. O'Donnell, who claimed that the ALP was "unconsciously bent on the destruction of Australian liberty". It was good copy for the scaremongers and further evidence of the political role of the hierarchy and its ordinaries.
Politicking of the church
What was taking place was the continued politicisation of the Australian hierarchy of the Catholic Church, despite warnings by leading theologian overseas about how to deal with social change and social justice issues. Archbishop Gilroy was by far the most political: he prepared a document intended to be a social justice statement, "Instruction to the Faithful on the Moral Issues raised by the Bill for Nationalising the Private Banks". It said that "now it seems clear" that the ALP was promoting nationalisation as to a step to complete socialisation; hence "this Bill is immoral in purpose. Even if it is 'not intended as a step to Socialism', the Bill opened the way to the totalitarian state, giving the government a monopoly on credit...", he implied. This document came from a man who 'rarely read books, never looked at television or listened to the radio'. Someone else wrote it - is a fair assumption. Nevertheless it was under his blessing. Here he was dictatorially super-imposing his ideas over those Labor representatives chosen and elected to govern by the people in a secular society.
Here the elected Labor government came face to face with a philosophical contradiction within the labour movement. It had set out with a strategy of learning from the past forty years - two wars and a catastrophic world depression - and it had a plan arising from its re-election in 1946 for a better and fairer society. With a mandate, the re-elected Chifley Labor government drew up an ambitious plan for 6850 projects for national development, as well as plans for referenda to carry out their policies.* Little did they know their whole strategy was under challenge from the now very robust 'political' Catholic Rightwing. The hierarchy in their antipathy to social change, whether socialism or democratic socialism were blighted by the atheism of the communist world, ignoring their own obligation for genuine social justice and ignoring the absolute power of capital.
This conflict was worsened by the composition of Labor's membership and its class orientation, its aspirations and the federal party's objectives and policies. This philosophical contradiction of social justice as the members saw it put it in conflict with the conservative values of the bishops, whose wartime policies were questionable and many times inadequate. As well, they opposed the evolutionary move to secularism, claiming the right to impose their own interpretative values on the wider community. They resisted social change, a fairer society and always linked democratic socialism with the Marxist theory. In the labour movement, the debate on such different tendencies was proper. No one group has all the answers. What was not acceptable behaviour was their cabals' inevitable involvement in the internal affairs of the Australian Labor Party. This laid the basis of a prolonged battle against federal Labor and its mandate and ultimately for the control of the ALP itself. The 'split' occurred mainly because people inside the party allowed themselves to be led by forces outside it.
Many of Labor's membership who were devout in their faith have to come to grips they were put on a false trail by the clergy and the consequences of this breach of trust remains on Labor's agenda decades later.
1953 - close call
A few examples of what was happening in those years show the danger. At the NSW 1953 Labor conference, anti-industrial group members of the NSW executive Jim Ormonde and Tony Mulvihill were removed; the state secretary E Wright MLC had been sacked many months earlier; ARU leader and the state ALP president, Jack Ferguson, was pushed aside, who, although Catholics, had opposed the Movement, so they were ousted by this new extremist group. This had the effect that all the NSW party officers, president Colbourne, secretary Charlie Anderson and Jack Kane were members of the Movement, whose leader was the anti-Labor outsider Mr Santamaria. In Victoria, the eminent John Dedman and Arthur Calwell had been pushed off the state executive, and in the 1949 federal elections a new batch of parliamentarians had been quietly pre-selected by the Movement and then elected to the federal parliament. These federal MPs Keon, Mullens, Andrews, plus state member Scully and Frank McManus (assistant State ALP Secretary), were to meet Mr Santamaria privately each Monday morning at Melbourne's Latin Restaurant to discuss internal federal ALP matters.
It became a caucus before the federal members went to Canberra. Bearing in mind this was the period of Dr Evatt's challenge to the Menzies anti-communist legislation in the High Court (rejected by a 6-1 majority), the subsequent Menzies referendum and the Menzies government's contrived Petrov Royal Commission. These 'lunches constituted a kind of Movement kitchen cabinet during which Santamaria would influence their attitudes'. It was clearly 'an outside influence'. Gil Duthie (Tas), one of the longest serving ALP federal parliamentarians, was to 'confide in his diary that he had become '"upset at the behaviour of some new Members of Caucus who have torpedoed the harmony and unity characteristic of the Old Caucus 1946-49. It is an irresponsible element loathe to accept discipline and silently hostile to Ben's (Chifley) leadership - Bad and Dangerous". Their speeches in the parliament and in the Labor caucus were unbelievable. It was to be an early warning of what Dr Evatt was to face from the Catholic (Santamaria) Right, especially in the developing Cold War climate in the world where many colonial countries were exercising the rights for self-determination.
Bearing in mind that in December 1952, i.e. the year that re-elected Jack Cain (Snr) as premier of Victoria, Santamaria wrote optimistically to Archbishop Mannix. Francis Scully, a young and intense Movement man had been elected to the state parliament; Pat Kennelly had been beaten in a state plebiscite; Jack Little (later DLP senator) was to become state ALP president and plans were afoot to 'get the numbers' on Labor's federal executive. So Bob Santamaria said to his mentor Archbishop Mannix: "The Social Studies Movement should within a period of five to six years be able to completely transform the leadership of the labour movement, and to introduce into federal and state spheres large numbers of members who possess a clear realisation of what Australia demands of them, and the will to carry it out. Without going into details, they should be able to implement a Christian social programme in both the state and federal spheres, and above all, to achieve co-ordination between the different states in so doing. This is the first time that such a work has become possible in Australia and, as far as I can see, in the Anglo-Saxon world since the advent of Protestantism".
Pat Kennelly tells how Movement men accompanied by priests came to his home offering him leadership of the state party and the premier's position if he joined them. He was a close friend and supporter of Premier John Cain and was outraged at their suggestion. It was an indication of 'their power', and their failure to understand the ethos inside traditional Labor, where despite a measure of 'wheeling and dealing', there still existed a sense of solidarity and decency.
After the 1953 federal ALP executive and conference it was becoming clear Labor was on a knife-edge. Extremists had captured most of the federal party officers, federal secretary, and now senator Kennelly was on the ropes and was ready to be pushed out of the secretary's role. So it was early in 1954 that Tom Dougherty finally decided to move. He decided to build bridges in NSW - not an easy task as he had gone along with moves that removed Ernie Wright MLC and ARU's Jack Ferguson from NSW Labor. He and his union had a reputation of playing a maverick role in labour movement politics. They were opposed to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, they had a certain authoritarian 'Tammany Hall' reputation, and he was offside with the new 'rising star' Labor MP and party figure Clyde Cameron from South Australia, who had already disbanded the Groups in that state. Although in a sense an ally of the Labor leadership of Dr Evatt in his early days, neither Dougherty nor the AWU were much respected in the wider labour movement.
The AWU moves
So Tom Dougherty approached Jim Ormonde, who had the reputation of being a reliable ALP traditionalist and a Catholic layman. Over dinner he told Jim all he knew about the 'takeover' moves of the biggest union in Australia, the AWU. He told Jim Ormonde more of the activities of the Interstate Liaison Committee of the Industrial Groups. He told him he had inside knowledge of the Movement. Jim Ormonde had earlier publicly criticised its activities. His brother Father Tom Ormonde had given him inside stories too. Dougherty told Ormonde he was amazed that Dr Evatt had gone to the recent Federated Ironworkers' Conference and praised the work of the ALP Industrial Group and the defeat of communist union leaders. Did he (Evatt) not know that Laurie Short was at the apex of the Industrial Group organisation which was even as they were talking together were plotting the good Doctor's political demise? Jim agreed that in seeking unity within the labour movement in order to win elections Dr Evatt was a little naive about his internal party opponents.
After these discussions, Jim told me at one of our long personal discussions: "The good Doc did not quite understand that this clandestine group could only succeed at the Doctor's expense". Ormonde told me he had known of the conspiracy, and that he had told the AWU leader that they had to work at trying to further persuade Dr Evatt there could be no compromise with the Movement. He told him that Ormonde and Platt, both Catholics, had already sought to convince Dr Evatt after the Petrov conspiracy and the attacks on Labor by the journal News-Weekly. The Doctor was hard to move.
Early in 1954 senator Kennelly told Labor's Victorian state conference, amid a lot heckling, that "the Industrial Groups were being used by an outside influence", they were interfering in party pre-selection ballots. The party is not as united and that a degree of intolerance was evident in the branch". Years later a Movement document surfaced which "directed its members in 1952 to give full attention ... to Federal and State pre-selections which the view (they agree) with the Movement's industrial (and) economic policies". The senate had become aware that Australia's Governor-General, Sir William McKell, had reported that when he addressed a conference of the National Catholic Rural Movement (mentioned in 'Light on the Hill) in Albury 1953 at which 250 were present, a hundred of whom were clergy, he said, "They frightened me ... All they want for a rural policy is a sheep, a goat, three acres and a migrant".
All this was happening months and years before Dr Evatt spoke out in October 1954.
The 1954 May elections were a disappointment, despite the ALP polling more than the government. This result nevertheless prompted some of the Victorian MP group to persuade Tom Bourke (Perth) to take advantage of the climate in the federal caucus and challenge Dr Evatt's leadership. He won easily, but the twenty votes against him added to the tensions of the times. This then prompted Jim Ormonde, Platt and Erskine to again try to see Evatt and convince him there was an unwritten alliance between Menzies and the Industrial Groups and this worked against Labor. He still would not move.
Dr Evatt was at the time heavily in the day-to-day matters before the Petrov Royal Commission as well as carrying out his parliamentary duties. The issues of the commission however plagued the Labor caucus as the Victorian Right MP coterie deliberately undermined Dr Evatt at a time when prudence was required. Whatever the circumstance the leader was entitled to a measure of loyalty - it was inherent in Labor tradition and praxis. They, and their 'outside leader Santamaria' were to learn again something about labour movement culture.
Writing in his book Australia at the Crossroads Bob Santamaria boasted, "The Industrial Groups were indisputably the major influence in the ALP in 1953, and in a position, if their influence had been permitted to consolidate itself, to shape an entirely different Labor Party..." Accordingly, he says, "1953 seemed an appropriate time to capitalise on the situation... to widen the horizons of some of the more thoughtful contacts formed among Labor men both among the parliamentarians and the members of executives and conferences. The method chosen was for the Movement to run a series of what today would be called 'seminars'... The premiers of Queensland (Gair) and of Tasmania (Cosgrove) each attended at least two of these seminars giving the seal of their prestige to the new initiative ... J J Cahill Premier of NSW was interested in coming to the third but this did not eventuate", Santamaria lamented. It was a portend of how the infamy was moving. A critical secret church memorandum said to be written by a Father Paddy Ryan criticised the seminars saying that "The present practice of holding meetings between Catholic Labor Premiers (Movement members) and the top leadership of the Movement for the purpose of having policies of the Movement accepted by State Labor Governments is dangerous... If the meetings became public the Church will be harmed, particularly as some members of the hierarchy had attended such meetings".
Evatt versus Menzies
Meanwhile, in the subsequent 1954 August budget session of parliament, the anger between Menzies and Evatt boiled over, especially as Evatt's appearance at the Royal Commission began to show that the so-called 'Petrov Spy' issues was specious and very political. When the commission finished its work and published its findings a year later in October 1955, no one was found guilty or spying, nor was anyone arrested. It was clearly a Menzies ploy designed to harm Labor and Evatt. Yet the public during the campaign and generally had been brainwashed to believe spies and communists were everywhere.
However the white-anting continued at the September caucus meeting. The member for Fawkner, W M Burke, tried to put Dr Evatt on hold so far as his appearance before the Petrov Commission was concerned. It was a bitter and disruptive debate which the press loved. Evatt won easily in the Labor caucus but it was setting the atmosphere for what was to come. By now Dr. Evatt was beginning to comprehend what he had been told by the AWU leader Dougherty whose views were beginning to make sense to him as he saw the bigger picture. So in discussion with private secretary Dalzeil, Jim Ormonde and Les Haylen a statement was prepared, Alan Reid (Daily Telegraph) was consulted. A day before that vital 8-hour- weekend Jim told me something big was in the pipeline.
The 'outing' of an unholy war
On Monday 5th October Dr Evatt made his famous speech outlining "the attitude of a small minority of members, located particularly in the State of Victoria, which has, since 1949, become increasingly disloyal to the labour movement and the Labor leadership. Adopting methods which strikingly resemble both Communist and Fascist infiltration of larger groups, some of these groups have created an almost intolerable situation - calculated to deflect the labour movement from the pursuit of established Labor objectives and ideals... It seems certain that the activities of these small groups are largely directed from outside the labour movement... The Melbourne News-Weekly appears to act at their organ..."
It was also suggested in a document circulating earlier that year, "The movement of Ideas in Australia", that the Catholic Hierarchy were involved in ALP affairs. In his speech at the annual Movement meeting in Albury in January 1954, Mr Santamaria made great use of 'we' in respect to ALP affairs, attacked the legend about Ben Chifley and sought to replace it with the 'pro-American Curtin legend'. It was red-rag to a bull. It became apparent that the Evatt statement was clearly relating to this Movement led by an anti-Labor and Catholic spokesman Mr Santamaria. This was more than nine months before Evatt spoke out.
The bishops and other spokesmen for the Catholic Church at first strenuously denied that there was any Catholic political Movement seeking external control of the Labor party. Dr Mannix "noted with regret that the name of the Roman Catholic Church was being drawn into controversy". Those of us in the know, knew that the Catholic Social Studies Movement had the backing of the hierarchy since 1945, so someone was being careless with the truth. Ironically Mr Santamaria was to frankly admit that there was a Catholic organisation working inside the Groups and that this was led by himself. So he was duping not only the ALP, but even his instruments, the Industrial Groups as well as the DLP.
A private discussion
With party tensions at fever-heat by those in the 'know', Jim Ormonde subsequently organised a special private talk between Tom Dougherty and Dr Evatt. At the time it was under double-wraps. Tom Dougherty told the steering committee executive many months later after it had been established in November 1954, that he thundered, shouted and almost directed Dr Evatt had to "take on the Industrial Groups' when he met Labor's leader." He told Evatt they, the Grouper elements were alien, disruptive, pro-capitalistic, conservative and an anti-Labor force. He told Evatt they were working behind the scenes with ASIO and Menzies. He promised to put the full resources of his Union behind any move Dr Evatt took to save the labor movement from the forces led by Santamaria. He told Evatt while the communists were evil, the Movement was even more evil. They had the support of big business, the daily press as well as some of the Catholic Bishops. He stressed he told him "Only Dr. Evatt could save the party".
True to his promise and words, Tom Dougherty unleased a vitriolic attack on Bartholomew Santamaria in the Australian Worker, the official organ of the national Australian Workers' Union. Headed "SANTAMARIA UNMASKED", it detailed the secret plans in which the ALP was to be transformed from its traditional and radical objective to become a Christian democratic party similar to those existing in Europe. He followed up as he promised Labor's leader. Four ALP unions formed the ALP unions steering committee to which other unions were invited to join. It was a public manifestation there was a 'political virus' inside the Australian Labor Party, and it needed exposure and an organised opposition.
At least nine months before Dr Evatt spoke out in October 1954, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr J D Pringle, met with Mr Santamaria at his Melbourne home. He warned Santamaria that "a secret political movement was wrong in principle and would lead to devastating results. He could not hope to manipulate a great democratic party from behind the scenes". While this discussion was taking place Santamaria received three phone calls from NSW ALP and union leaders in Sydney. His advice to his host Mr Manipulator about ethics was ignored. These secret seminars at which Barbara Ward, Colin Clark and Paul Maguire spoke was clearly an attempt by non-Labor 'outsiders' to by-pass the acceptable processes by which Labor decided policy and decision-making. It made even more imperative the need for the Movement to be exposed for its subversion and interference in policy development and party-politics.
The numbers were once there
At the federal ALP level in July 1953, Movement men or supporters more or less had the numbers. The AWU's Boland was on side at that time so Lovegrove became federal president with Boland and Colbourne vice-presidents. Tasmanian Premier Cosgrove, who was a member of the executive (according to Jim Ormonde was getting alarmed) and the Movement, sent his deputy, Eric Reece - it was another sign that Santamaria failed to notice. Kennelly as federal secretary and senator-elect was on the skids and only his skill as a devious backroom boy, kept the Groupers at bay at the Melbourne meeting. Boland cut adrift when the AWU moved against Bob Santamaria. Even though at that stage Dr Evatt had not accepted these party officials were his enemies, the numbers were too close to call when finally he became convinced by Tom Dougherty and others, the Movement were out to destroy him.
All these examples, and many more, took place before the holiday weekend in October 1954. Based on the Federal election that took place in May 1954, Dr Evatt as Federal leader had an obligation to review that result; to look at the campaign; the state of the Australian Labor Party and the Industrial Groups. He could no longer remain silent at what were the machinations of a group of Victorians politicians who were associated with News-Weekly and were directed by an outside influence. Tom Dougherty was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt how the Movement was trying to take over the AWU. Jim Ormonde, Barney Platt (TWU), Reg Downing MLC and Fred Campbell (ETU) all combined to take Dr Evatt down a different path. Yet it was claimed Labor's leader acted without consultation. Those who peddled that view, right from Robert Murray and others, were wrong. It was to simplify a philosophical disaster and shade the political role of many bishops.
Both Bob Santamaria (in Memoirs) and Robert Murray (The Split) regarded certain periods of the early 50s as favourable and the year of 1953 as the 'High Noon' of the Movement. When the Vatican intervened post the 1954 'Outing', the activity against federal Labor was continued by the formation in 1957 of the National Civic Council (NCC), which continued to function inside the labour movement. In NSW a newspaper, Vision, headed by a Geoff Cahill (later a NSW state ALP secretary) helped the cause of the Catholic Right to ward off the anti-group movement.
Out of their own mouths
The turning point for Labor early in 1955 was the steps taken to eradicate the ALP endorsed 'Industrial Groups'. To do this Clyde Cameron suggested a course of action 'to save Labor's soul' by dismissing the Victorian 'Grouper and Santamaria dominated' branch, and electing a new executive. Barristers John Kerr, Hal Wootten and Garfield Barwick were to advise the McManus-Little forces to defy the federal body. The eventual and successful ALP's Hobart conference was to proscribe those who went to the courts to stop Labor's federal executive deal with subversion. It also specifically endorsed the ALP federal executive decision on withdrawing the endorsement of the Industrial Groups. The conference established a peace policy which included a reliance on the United Nations; rejection of atomic weapons of mass destruction; opposition to use of armed forces in Malaya; settle the civil war in Indo-China (Vietnam) by negotiation using the UN; assist the Asian people by ending colonialism and supporting self-determination; the use of Southeast Asia Collective Defence Treaty And Protocol (SEATO). To settle disputes in our region; admission of all countries, including the People's Republic of China, to the UN; fraternal visits to all Asian countries and the eradication of poverty by raising of living standards.
For the naive or the duped, Mr Santamaria deplored his own failings about the turn of events and his mistakes. In an edited version of an article published in the Herald's "Good Weekend" magazine in March 1990, Mr Santamaria said, in respect to ALP affairs, "he now blames his two biggest political mistakes on poor information". In his own words he went on to say: "The first, concerned Evatt's federal executive move in 1954 to expel the Victorian Executive". Referring to a West Australian delegate, he said: "I knew we had six-all and he (Evatt) couldn't succeed. What I didn't know was one of 'our six' was going to be away at the time and allowed a proxy to be appointed who was opposed to us (the one who was away was Kim Beazley (senior - he was replaced by federal MP Harry Webb)". The second mistake he claims, was not knowing that Cardinal Gilroy was in touch with some of the NSW traditional and Catholic union officials, who were against his Movement. Notice how he uses 'our' and 'we' when he spoke of events taking place at the highest level of the ALP - at its federal executive Where he was wrong he under-estimated the power of 'leadership' and loyalty when both Lovegrove and Boland moved.
Mr Santamaria, never a member of the ALP, in his memoirs, laments that "Sixty-six Labor parliamentarians who stuck with the groups all lost their jobs. I know people on my side who were destroyed". Confirming this was the statement of Mr K C Davis, the then State president of the DLP, who claimed that "many present trade-union officials, members of the state parliament - even in the Renshaw cabinet - and members of the NSW executive belonged in the Movement during my secretaryship".
Years later, senator Jim Ormonde wrote in newspaper letters said, when it became obvious the subversion was not only about divisions of opinion about Labor politics between Victoria and NSW - between Mannix and Gilroy - he was to say, "the Church decided after seeking guidance from the Pope about the activities of the Movement, and its effect on the ALP". Jim advised "The reconstructed movement", said his Lordship, "would take steps to ensure that the support of the Church would not be given to any organised body operating in the trade unions or political parties." Nevertheless, the NCC which was constituted in 1957/8 continued its involvement and still exists. At one stage it boasted it had one hundred staff.
Prior to October 1954 'outing'
Proving that the Industrial Group virus had a wider function than fighting communists, AWU state secretary and later NSW Labor president Charlie Oliver, speaking at his 1955 AWU state convention, queried the legitimacy of the anti-communist role of the ALP Industrial Groups - the outward public expression of the Movement. He told his union convention of "The March to Power of the Industrial Groups", and how earlier in 1954 they established the "ALP Groups Interstate Liaison Committee." In a trenchant critique of the Groups, he went on to say of the Liaison Committee - "Its functions are to: l. Lay the basis for, and to act as, the co-coordinating body in federal campaigns. 2. Endeavour to obtain agreement on the question of candidates, thus preventing a split Labor vote. 3. Provide the matter, and arrange the issuance of propaganda in campaigns."
Mr Oliver claimed "They have gone political.... They were no longer to operate in trade unions movement, but they were to operate in politics on a federal level ... this all happened in one year". He went on to say the ALP Industrial Groups conference wanted the NSW ALP Conference to "direct federal ALP conference to set up this machine (ALP Groups) in every State in the Commonwealth". He pointed out to the AWU delegates the responsibility for federal campaigns always rested with the federal Labor party and federal executive. These moves by the Groups showed there were other agendas operating. He then told a later executive meeting of the "NSW Steering Committee" at which Tony Mulvihill, Izzy Wyner, John Garland and myself were present that the Movement was moving into long-established ALP led unions, where he said so-called "CP influenced was either minimal or non-existent".
The biggest bombshell however came from Tom Dougherty himself. At his 69th National AWU Convention (as the official minutes show), he outlined the role of the Industrial Groups and their attempt to capture his union and ipso facto the whole Australian Labor Party. Held on January 1955, that is, three months after the outing of the Movement by Labor leder Dr Evatt. Delegates from far and wide were treated to a remarkable 'expose' by general secretary Dougherty. In a long and precise report he said "the AWU has been marked out for control and its officials marked down for destruction by a secret society known as the 'Movement' ... The Movement has members who are politicians in the federal and state parliaments, and they are required to carry out instructions given them by Santamaria, directed through his trusted association in the eastern states. Those members are the 'cell' of the Movement now in control of the NSW Branch of the ALP, are making strenuous efforts to gain control of the ALP throughout the Commonwealth... He pointed out their tactic was one of character assassination..."
Illegal swamping of union meetings
On Thursday 27th January 1955, Tom Dougherty spoke of "young students who were members of the Movement and the ALP, and three of them told of their activities. These young men had written a letter expressing concern 'at the manner in which they had been used', in political (Labor) affairs. They were taken in cars from Union meeting to Union meeting to swamp the meetings. I know also that on the Thursday night before the (December 10, 1955) election in which that adventuress Nancy Wake stood against Evatt... these young people were taken into the Barton electorate by car, and were ordered to put 'Communist hammer and sickle signs' on every signs asking a vote for Dr Evatt in that electorate. I know they door-knocked in Dr Evatt's electorate and I know that to a very material extent, because of the activities of the Movement that this...woman... nearly won the election against a good Labor man."
Quoting from the letter, the delegates were told by their general secretary: "The 'Movement' in 1949 decided that it would no longer remain passive but would become active ... The time had come for us to become active - we will take over the Australian Labor Party ..." The 1954 written letter referring to NSW and the Cahill government (April 1952) said in respect to the (proposed) compulsory unionism legislation "the Movement control of 50 per cent of metropolitan branches. It could mean severe embarrassment, if not defeat for Mr Cahill, if he does not co-operate". It explains perhaps why Premier Cahill did not attend the 1953 Santamaria-organised-Seminars.
Dougherty named "John Kerr as the 'Movement' barrister, Boyland, McClelland & Co as their solicitor... John Kerr is the man who, with two other legal people advised the Movement in this city". He also named Lloyd Ross, Laurie Short, Harry Hurrell, J R Boyland, Terry Ludeke as (Movement men) in his remarks to the Convention.
The AWU convention heard detailed reports from other prominent Labor figures, Brahma Davies (Victorian AWU), Joe Bukowski (Queensland AWU) and other state union leaders. They all told lurid stories about the machinations of the Industrial Groupers in their respective states and in the Labor Party state branches.
Dr Evatt, like most of his traditional parliamentary colleagues, was not fully aware of the cancer cells that had been operating in the body politic for many years. It seems they did not know that most party office-holders in the three main Labor states were members of the secretive Movement. They did not know that most of the union leaders in those trade unions that had rejected their communist officials were replaced by Movement men or supporters and this altered the culture, the identity, the ethos and disposition of the whole labour movement. They did not know the extent that many parliamentarians in the state parliaments including the three Labor premiers were also regarded as Movement members or orientated in that direction. True at that particular time the obsession about communism was acceptable to many and only a few knew that what was happening had created division within Catholicism and the ALP.
What Dr Evatt did was to challenge an underground movement that put the Australian Catholic Church's involvement in politics on the defensive in respect to the labour movement. There are scores of books and hundreds of articles written about this vital area of Labor politics. It has taken me almost a year to collect some of this material in order to ventilate specifically the disruptive role played by certain politico-ecclesiastic forces inside the ALP since 1941. It took Father Duncan in his expose Crusade or Conspiracy ten years to outline the role of the forces around Santamaria. To the church's credit, he was given access to all the records and files held by the Catholic Church. In weakening federal Labor the beneficiary was of course conservatism.
My intention was to make this discourse available to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dr Evatt's exposure and outing of this insidious movement. It was to defend Dr Evatt from his detractors, to defend his honour and reputation and to put that era of 'interference in Labor affairs' into its proper historical perspective. It was to tell the story that Tom Dougherty told the 69th AWU national convention and the Worker newspaper of the underhand work of Mr Santamaria. Learning from history is an essential ingredient for Labor and society in general. To that extent Melbourne Coadjutor Archbishop Simonds (and later the successor to Mannix) put it clearly: "Whenever the Church's ministry and spiritual mission becomes befogged with political issues, the cause of religion always suffers".
However, when parliament was dissolved late August, the election naturally took precedence over matters dealing with such an historical distortion. The evidence shows the Movement was the most undemocratic centre with an alien strategy to ever penetrate the ALP. It dismembered the membership, repudiated the rule of law, destroyed careers of friend and foe and over time harmed our nation's political processes. Led by an autocratic demi-god, few have been brought to account for their age-long misdemeanours. It needs more ventilation.
Apart from this defence of Dr Evatt in Labor politics, no one can take away the great role he played in the formative years of the United Nations and his work on the UN Declaration of Human Rights. His record speaks for itself.
The Second Vatican Council and since
Pope John XXIII's Second Vatican Council was an attempt to bring Catholicism into the reality of the post-war world. It opened the door wider to the possibility that somehow the world would move on to a more enlightened position in the interests of democracy and betterment. In Australia it was hoped we would become a more liberal, pluralist and open society. This allowed the development of a view that no longer required loyal Catholics to follow a particular narrow and unacceptable position politically. Arguably this is perhaps one of the dilemma still facing the labour movement, which requires much more examination than this Seminar to explain Labor's current difficulties.
Whilst much of this material has been collated from books written about the last sixty or seventy years of Labor history, it deals specifically about the political life and times of Dr Evatt as seen by his principal detractor and others who have been persuaded that he was at fault in the years of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. It is a horrifying story of how 'fear' and 'smear' can help to destroy a man's reputation and standing - and in a sense almost change the traditions of the labour movement.
It has been said "Each person sees things in his/her way. Each person develops a version of past events that he/she can live with, and put to the rack, that's the version he/she tells. Ultimately, it becomes his/her truth". This leads me to the conclusion that it is the victors who write history. That is why I have joined the fray - to rescue Dr Evatt's reputation and achievements. Dr Evatt was essentially a Labor traditionalist. On occasions he took a stance some would interpret, helped the Right - in other circumstances he was accused of being on the Left. He was a democrat, a centrist, moving as he thought fit, to make decisions profitable for Labor electorally.
I was convinced by Jim Ormonde and other NSW Catholic union officials to become a participant in protecting Labor's quest for social democracy and decency. It is a continuing struggle which remains under another guise. After the Vatican vetoed the Australian church's official participation, Mr Santamaria formed the National Civic Council (NCC) which carried on the work - it boasted 100 full-time operators at its peak. It built another facade and it lingers still. This had the effect over decades of establishing a 'culture' inside the ALP of resilient nepotism - a certain type of tribalism, where members of the 'clan' get promoted in union leaderships, conferences, parliaments and the media.
A community response
The establishment of the Evatt Foundation was an attempt to recognise the Doc's great contribution to Australian public life. On the initiative of Sir Richard Kirby, a proposal was advanced to publicly recognise Dr Evatt's enormous efforts as jurist, as a leader in public life, and a prominent member of the Australian Labor Party during a most difficult period of history. Later on, Bob Hawke endorsed the project and it was supported by his Labor government.
In 1994 Neville Wran, a former long-serving premier of NSW and past president of the Australian Labor Party, in speaking on the 100th anniversary of Dr Evatt's birth, said he was an 'extraordinary Australian'. In reference to a recent biography, he quotes Cliff Dolan, ACTU leader, as saying Doc Evatt is a "patriot, Internationalist, fighter and scholar... A man of tremendous intellectual power and vision, a Titan...". He goes on to say: "His great intellect is not a matter for doubt. His academic, legal and scholarly achievements speak for themselves". He said the Doc supported a Bill for the Abolition of Capital Punishment as far back as September 1925 ... (it) was finally abolished in NSW in 1985. He argued in 1929 for the acceptance of the principle for equal pay for equal work ... (it) was finally achieved 43 years later in 1972."
Neville Wran said in respect to "Defeating the Communist Party Dissolution Referendum ... I had the good fortune to attend meetings at which Evatt spoke ... both in the Sydney Domain one Sunday afternoon and in the wind-up of the campaign at the Bondi Esplanade... It was (at Bondi) the greatest defence of civil liberties I have ever heard and the Doc left no doubt in our minds that a constitutional change would be the final step towards the creation of a police state. It has been said a thousand times that the defeat of that referendum represented his finest hour - his greatest achievement."
Referring to the fact "the (early polls) showing 80 per cent from 20 per cent against him ... it represented a great personal and moral victory because a goodly proportion of the Labor Party ran dead... and a lot of other ALP members hoped he would not succeed. He did succeed, and for that we must forgive him his trespasses and recognise that he left Australians free to challenge authoritarianism... - he earnt his place in Australia's history... It is a great pity that there are not more people in Australia imbued with the Doc's immovable conviction that our hard-earned civil liberties should be defended at all costs".
In launching the Buckley biography of Evatt, Wran said: "It has made me focus on Dr Evatt's amazing career. It reminded me painfully of the activities of the Groupers and the Movement in the fifties. It drove home to me the impact of the great split in the Labor Party in 1954 - a split for which the Doc is largely held responsible (although it was Santamaria who concocted the recipe for the Party's destruction)".
In a contemplative view, he said of the fifties and the sixties when we were in the wilderness, "It also gave me an insight into the vagaries and eccentricities of the Doc and his often abrasive and disruptive influence. Yet whether it is a result of the passage of time; my advancing years; or my well-known compassion I am prepared to forgive him his shortcomings and I salute Dr Evatt as an intellectual, a true Labor leader and a great Australian."
I therefore hope to put Dr Evatt's role in perspective by pointing out that those elements Neville Wran referred to in 1951 were traitors to our cause, our principles and our party. No one could keep those elements in our midst. 1954 was about philosophy, what we are and what we want for our people, our nation. His statement that weekend should be seen as unavoidable. It must never be forgotten he was an eminent jurist on Australia's High Court. We should be reminded that Dr Evatt is the only Australian who held high office in the United Nations and who in so doing fought for its great objectives of world peace and for the dignity for all peoples.
Perhaps the most important issue the learned Doctor was associated with was the United Nations internationally renowned Declaration of Human Rights. This Charter is an historical document comparable to England's Magna Carta and the French call for Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. It was never ratified by Australia until 1973, when Labor's Senator Lionel Murphy, with Gough Whitlam's enthusiastic support, said in the Australian Senate, "Doc Evatt in the formative years of the UN ... shifted the promotion and protection of human rights away from the sole concern of individual governments towards a consensus drawn from a 'community of nations' and through which 'the protection of human rights assumed an international character. The Charter proclaims... 'respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex or religion' It was to be the forerunner of all our legislative efforts against all forms of discrimination. Evatt started this process - Labor extended it and the struggle continues."
It is my earnest hope that proper recognition is made to Herbert Vere Evatt. He was undoubtedly a great Australian.
Arthur Gietzelt is a former senior vice-president of the Australian Labor Party and was a minister in first and second Hawke Labor governments. This is the texct of his lecture to the Evatt Foundation of 21 November 2004.
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